LeBron James is expected to opt out of the final year of his current contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and become an unrestricted free agent, according to Dan Woike of The LA Times. According to Woike, the sense is that he will ultimately elect to remain with the Lakers in the end. 

However, by becoming an unrestricted free agent, James gains two important rights. The first is the obvious one: he can sign with any team in the NBA. The second is a bit more obscure. As James has now spent more than four years with the Lakers and more than eight years in the NBA, he is eligible to receive a no-trade clause. No-trade clauses cannot be added to existing contracts in extensions, so if James wants one in Los Angeles, opting out was his only path to getting one.

By opting out, James would cost himself a little bit of money in a new Lakers contract. His projected three-year max deal as a free agent would come out to roughly $162 million. This figure would begin at his max salary, which is 5% above last season's $47.6 million figure, and then include 8% raises in the subsequent two seasons. Were James to opt in and extend, he'd be making more than $164 million in total over the new deal because instead of starting at his max based on this year's projected cap, he'd be started at his player option figure of $51.4 million, which is slightly higher. 

James cannot sign for more than three years because of the Over-38 Rule. The financial difference in the two contracts is relatively small, and perhaps James views it as insignificant enough to warrant sacrificing for a no-trade clause. The Lakers are reportedly open to any contract structure James prefers in negotiating his new deal. In the past, he has often opted for one-year deals in order to maximize his own flexibility and to capitalize on the rising salary cap. As the cap is expected to rise by the maximum allowable 10% annually starting next offseason, he could actually make more money by signing one-year deals, but that would cost him the financial security of a multi-year deal.

While James is widely expected to remain with the Lakers in the end, he will surely receive interest from other teams if he is open-minded about where he plays next season. The Philadelphia 76ers led by Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey will have max cap space and are reportedly hunting for a star. The Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, both younger teams on the rise, can get to max cap space with a few moves, so both would potentially make sense if they are willing to spend on an older player. There are also sign-and-trade possibilities, or, potentially, opt-in and trade possibilities as well, as James does not have to make his official decision until June 29. If trades are on the table, all 29 other teams would likely register some degree of interest.

But for now, all signs continue to point to James remaining with the Lakers, who just hired James' podcast co-host JJ Redick as their head coach and are widely expected to draft his son, Bronny, in next week's NBA Draft. James can explore other opportunities if he becomes a free agent, but the Lakers remain in clear pole position for the moment.

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